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Board eyes ways to rehire teachers; Williams to weigh in on financial concerns

The Buffalo School Board is working to save the jobs of teachers days after it accepted Superintendent James A. Williams' resignation.

The jobs decision could happen as soon as Wednesday, when the board revisits 117 pink slips handed out earlier this month to save the school district $5.8 million.

"Dr. Williams has requested additional time for him and the Finance Department to continue to comb through the budget and various areas and come back with a strong recommendation for the board on Wednesday ," board member Ralph Hernandez said Monday after the board emerged from executive session.

School Board President Louis J. Petrucci said he anticipated some teachers would be rehired, but it was too soon to say how many.

"There should be a plan in place -- if not this Wednesday, then very soon thereafter -- in which there will be some teachers returned," Petrucci said.

Details also emerged on Williams' separation agreement. He will receive $110,000 -- equal to six months salary -- plus $10,000 in consulting fees and about $8,000 in unused vacation time, a source said. Williams' last day is Sept. 15.

The agreement, reached last week in executive session, hasn't been released by the School Board's Legal Department, and board members have said they cannot comment until then.

The Buffalo Control Board will need to approve the agreement since it is more than $50,000.

Barbara J. Smith, the district's chief financial officer, presented a bleak assessment of the district's finances over the next three school years, in which deficits are projected to hit $36.8 million, increase to $45.8 million and climb to $60.8 million.

"When we look at the deficits going forward, to just say we are going to recall everyone without a well-thought out process is not advisable," Smith said.

"We're looking for the long-term financial benefit of the district and the long-term financial plan. It's not an immediate fix, it's a painful process, and we've made recommendations to close buildings that would have covered these reductions, and those didn't happen."

The anticipated deficits dwarf the district's "rainy day fund" of $36 million, Smith said, of which $16 million is committed. She said another $55.5 million needs to be set aside because of a court case with the Buffalo Teachers Federation over a wage freeze instituted several years ago.

Adding to the uncertainty, Petrucci said, is that Buffalo schools are projected to have 500 fewer students when school resumes in September, requiring fewer teachers. Those numbers are hard to calculate even after school starts, since attendance numbers tend to fluctuate wildly over the first month, Williams said.

Hernandez said the needs of schoolchildren must come first.

"I didn't hear anything tonight that this district is seriously considering the adverse effect that these laid-off teachers will have in the classroom. Priority one has to be protecting the integrity of those classrooms," Hernandez said.

"This is a good opportunity for us to show our young generation of teachers that we value them and are willing to dip into our reserve fund to keep them."

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said teachers are upset about the number of layoffs.

"It's not only ruining the morale of the new teachers, it's ruining the morale of the current teachers. The district has the money, so what it says to people is that the district does not want to spend the money to keep the teachers here," Rumore said.

He took heat from the board for a cosmetic surgery rider that costs the school district $5.4 million -- almost enough to bring back the laid-off teachers. He was asked again about agreeing to a one-year moratorium but said he would only do so as part of a more comprehensive agreement.

Details of the buyout of former Deputy Superintendent Folasade Oladele also became known Monday. She will receive $49,000 and won't be challenged by the school district if she applies for unemployment compensation, her separation agreement says.

The agreement, which Williams signed on Aug. 10, came after the School Board's June approval of a $215,000 buyout drew public outrage and failed to gain the support of the Buffalo Control Board.

Oladele, hired with a three-year contract, began work for the district in July 2009. The agreement requires her to be available for consultation to the district for one year.

JoAnn Sweat, president of Buffalo Education Support Team, which represents teachers aides, assistants and health care aides, said she hoped the board will revisit the 150 layoffs called for this school year. "They help run the schools, and schools cannot possibly run without their assistance," she said.